The True Cost of Cleaning Up After Your Loved Ones Are Gone

Losing a loved one, whether abrupt or anticipated, can wreck you. To make matters worse, sorting through the home and possessions of a loved one can be both emotionally and physically draining. It can take a lot of time to deal with a lifetime of memories, bank statements, clothing, artwork — the list goes on and on.

In a perfect world, your deceased loved one had a thought-out plan for handling their estate. But that isn’t always the case. Typically, there isn’t a clear-cut agenda. So before tasking yourself with cleaning an estate, it’s crucial to come up with a solid plan. Then, communicate that plan with everyone involved.

Every single item will need to go somewhere, whether it be gifted, donated, sold, or trashed. As the executor of an estate, know there will be unexpected and hidden costs associated with the cleanup. Here are some of the costs you should anticipate.

1. Taking time off work

sad businesswoman

You’ll likely have to rearrange your work schedule. | iStock/Getty Images

Typically, an employer provides bereavement time for the loss of a family member or close friend. Usually three to five days paid leave is all the time offered to an employee to grieve. Factoring in additional time off from work to handle the estate of your loved one will whittle away at the vacation time you have. Exhausting your vacation time will of course lead to taking unpaid time away from work, costing your pocketbook a lot of dollars.

2. The costs of cleaning

Woman doing houswork

Cleaning out a home isn’t easy. | diego_cervo/iStock/Getty Images

If you are able to assemble a team of family members, friends, and neighbors to assist with the sorting, purging, and cleaning of the estate, good for you. That’s not always the way it shakes out. Keep in mind that every single item inside and outside of the home will need to go somewhere. Some will go to family members, some will be donated, and some will be trashed. In a lot of cases, you’ll need to rent a dumpster or schedule special pickups with a waste management company. These services vary in cost, but they must be done.

3. Avoid storage units if possible

line of boxes

Storage is expensive. | Martin Poole/Getty Images

You might be tempted to put off going through some items and instead stick them in storage. Please avoid doing this. Your location will impact the cost of a storage unit, but nevertheless it gets pricey. The average monthly cost of a climate-controlled 10 foot-by-20 foot storage unit will run you around $175. That’s $2,100 each year. If possible, take the time to divvy out the belongings to family, and donate or trash the rest.

4. The cost of shipping items

ups truck

Shipping heirlooms doesn’t come cheap. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

What about that beloved necklace your niece wants you to ship to her? It’s not unusual for family members to request that you hold on to certain items for them. Sometimes, they might even ask you to ship some of these treasures. It’s understandable that your family members want pieces of their loved one. But keep in mind you should not foot the bill for sending these treasures around the globe. Kindly and openly communicate that you’ll need reimbursement for the cost of shipping.

5. Getting the home ready to sell

home for sale

Even after you’ve cleared out all the possessions, a house still takes work to sell. | iStock/Getty Images

You’ve managed to clear out the majority of your loved one’s possessions. Now, it’s time to get the home ready to sell. Inevitably a few home improvement projects will need to happen. Calling in a handyman should get the work done quickly, but it’s going to cost you. How much? Well, it varies immensely. A family friend might charge you the bare minimum. On the other hand, calling in professional electricians and plumbers will quickly rack up some hefty bills.

6. Appraisal of the home and possessions

Jewelry box

You’ll want to have potentially valuable jewelry appraised. | pheigin/iStock/Getty Images

The home will need to be appraised before it’s put on the market. On average, that will cost somewhere between $300 to $400 for a single family home. In terms of any artwork or valuable jewelry, you’ll want to get that appraised, as well. Choose wisely when selecting an art appraiser. The hourly rate could be anywhere from $25 per hour to more than $300 per hour.

7. Risk is a real cost

man inspecting outlets

Make sure you’re not liable for any workers you have to the home. | Imagesbybarbara/iStock/Getty Images

An unoccupied house is a risky house to have. A lot can happen when a house sits empty — think frozen pipes and bats in the attic. Furthermore, if you have a handyman in and out of the home, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t assuming the liability. Make sure the home’s insurance covers any accidents that could happen. It’s also not a bad idea to have anyone working in the house sign liability waivers.

8. If all else fails, hire a liquidator

House with yellow sold sign

An estate sale company can help you clear out the house, so you can get everything sold. | Feverpitched/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Overwhelmed by it all? That’s perfectly normal. For people who find the task of cleaning a loved one’s estate to be completely paralyzing, hiring an estate sale company is probably the route. An estate sale company will take inventory of what is in the home, research the value of it all, organize, market, and hold the sale for you. The cost to you could range anywhere from 20% to 45% of the gross proceeds. Make sure you are reading all of the fine print and interviewing a variety of estate sale companies. Some will clear out any unsold items after the sale, while others will not.

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